My life as a restaurant reviewer

As President of Wakefield Civic Society, I have responsibility for organising the Society’s Annual Design Awards. These have been running since 1966 and are designed to promote good design in architecture, town planning and conservation. There were originally just two categories – New Build and Refurbishment although each could apply to environmental as well as building schemes. The awards were presented every two years, although in some years, there were no schemes judged sufficiently merit worthy to receive an award.

In an attempt to keep the awards fresh and topical, in 2004, I recommended that the number of categories be increased from two to four to include the best new or refurbished shop front and the best new or refurbished public house, café or restaurant frontage. In 2006, I recommended a fifth category be added for best residential development. These recommendations were accepted by the Society’s executive committee as was a further recommendation I made to turn the awards into an annual event from 2008 onwards.

So, what does this have to do with my role as a restaurant reviewer? Well, it was while talking about the design awards in the public house/café/restaurant frontage category that I realised a number of people assumed that the Society was reviewing the food and drink being offered, rather than the architectural changes. This set me thinking so in 2009, I suggested that the Society start to do just that and we created a monthly Dining Club for Society members. This was scheduled to have its first meeting in January 2010, however, bad weather scuppered that and so it was February of that year when the club met for the first time. The idea is that the Dining Club should meet at a different venue each month to enjoy convivial conversation while sampling some good food (and drink). At the end of each evening, members score their evening – from the quality of the food and service to the value for money and overall experience. At the end of the year, the Society then awards its ‘Restaurant of the Year Award’ to whichever establishment (and occasionally, establishments, as there has been a tie on more than one occasion) scores the highest number of marks. This is a bit of fun but the restaurant owners enter into the spirit and the awards generate some publicity for the restaurants as well as for the Society.

Somewhere along the line, my involvement in all this gained me a reputation as a bon vivant and that reputation must have travelled. When Gill Laidler was setting up TopicUK magazine, a business to business magazine for Wakefield, and was looking for someone to write restaurant reviews, my name was put forward and I was offered the role, submitting my first review in May 2013. (I did point out that as a vegetarian, my reviews would have to be selective – but that wasn’t a problem; sometimes I take meat-eating friends along with me to widen the research!)

I’ve been writing reviews ever since, usually of restaurants in and around Wakefield but occasionally combined with travel articles as well. The articles are intended to promote Wakefield so they are reviews – I don’t see my role to be a critic as such. If I were to encounter an establishment that I couldn’t recommend, it would not feature in one of my reviews.

Many of the restaurant reviews on this website are adapted from articles I first submitted for TopicUK. Of course, they can only ever be snapshots based on my own experiences but I’d like to think that the articles do encourage readers to go out and try the establishments that I have reviewed over the years.

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